‘The Book of Boba Fett’ Has the Aim of a Drunk Stormtrooper

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Disney+
Disney+

Who is Boba Fett, really? Most Star Wars icons achieved such a status with their role in the larger saga or the performer behind them, or both. But the bounty hunter’s dual introductions, first in animated form on the long-lamented Star Wars Holiday Special, and then more formally in The Empire Strikes Back, have yet to live up to anything of substance outside the (no longer canonical) Expanded Universe. Hell, Boba Fett’s demise in Return of the Jedi is mostly played for laughs, as a temporarily blinded Han Solo knocks him into the Sarlaac Pit. In a stark moment that foreshadows George Lucas’ direction after the original trilogy, the pit burps after it’s eaten Boba.

Nearly 40 years after that gastrointestinal gag once served as Fett’s last rites, The Book of Boba Fett drops on Disney+ as the continuation of this rogue’s story fans have long been clamoring for. Immediately, the filmmakers show us the titular antihero (Temuera Morrison) crawling out of the stomach of his conqueror. Watching the scene, one is reminded of Leonardo DiCaprio inching forward through the mud in The Revenant, only any hint of physical duress is hidden beneath that iconic helmet. One thing’s for sure, kids: there will be no belching in this star war.

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From there, the Robert Rodriguez-directed and Jon Favreau-written series premiere, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” continues its self-serious dribble-drabble across two timelines: right after Return of the Jedi and right after the post-credits tease that capped The Mandalorian’s largely satisfying second season, in which Boba Fett played a significant part. In the latter, Boba and his fierce ally Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen, a highlight) have taken over the late Jabba the Hutt’s palace on the desert planet of Tatooine, presumably assuming control of the dead slug’s throne and criminal jurisdiction.

When the premiere is focused on the shift of power in Tatooine’s criminal underworld, it shows some potential. It’s fun watching various Tatooine inhabitants determine their relationship with Boba. Once in its groove, there’s a chance The Book of Boba Fett may evolve into The Sopranos in Space. But sadly, most of these 38 minutes are devoted to flashbacks, showing Fett as prisoner to a tribe of Tusken Raiders (I see we’re still ignoring that these guys are just a little problematic in relation to Middle Eastern stereotypes…) and how he earns their respect. This brutish backstory has all the machismo of a series that is so very afraid of the fanbase finding it silly. It’s what The Mandalorian might look like without Grogu drinking soup or eating forbidden eggs.

Like when we met Din Djarin, we get hints that Boba might not be such a bad guy. He offers to free a fellow prisoner in the Tusken camp. He also doesn’t seem to mind when the mayor of Mos Espa (a large town on Tatooine) slights him, sending his servant peacefully on his way rather than killing him. Morrison does his best to anchor it all, but these are fleeting moments that fail to break the cold tone Favreau and Rodriguez set out to establish. In a telling, unintentionally hilarious early moment, Ludwig Goransson’s score soars as a pair of droids dress Boba Fett in his armor. This character is treated as if he’s got gravitas in his DNA. It’s the opening of Batman & Robin without any of the cheekiness.

And the action is as dry as the show’s overall vibe unless Wen is involved. A violent mid-episode standoff fails to excite until it devolves into a rooftop foot chase that sees Fennec leave Boba in the dust. Instead, the antihero is carted back to his bacta tank, no longer the force of badassery fans have projected onto him. Part of Boba’s arc over the seven-episode season may be to get his physicality back, which just feels like the least interesting way to go about anything introduced here, considering this show could be The Sopranos in Space.

But the fans want the “real” Boba Fett: not the one the movies gave them, but the one they’ve imagined. This is the sad state of Star Wars today: writers treating its icons as sacred after vocal fan backlash to Luke Skywalker showing layers of humanity and making mistakes in The Last Jedi. And so here we are, a new series with no true identity. Even the concept art over the end credits can’t escape feeling borrowed from The Mandalorian.

This premiere isn’t a total disaster, hinting at a grander crime saga to come. But there’s just nothing to chew on from this first chapter of The Book of Boba Fett. Fingers crossed that this becomes the series to do, well, anything with the character, but “Stranger in a Strange Land” is not an encouraging start. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but there’s nothing in this premiere you couldn’t get from the cover of a book. And that’s been the case for Boba’s entire career in excess fandom. It’s a nice look, but now that this show’s creators have the chance to fill the pages within, it’s frustrating to read words that mean a whole lot of nothing.

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